The NSW surf town of Byron Bay is one of my favourite holiday destinations in Australia. World-famous for it’s unique vibe, it was at the centre of the alternative movement in the '70s and '80s. Today it attracts celebrities, surfies, backpackers, hippies and hipsters.
Byron has a thriving artistic and musical community and there are musicians on street corners and local artisan products in the shops and markets. You can eat local, organic food in the cafes, shop for designer boho-luxe clothes and homewares, pick up a pair of certified fair trade boardshorts or bikinis and head to the beach.
The rainbow bridge at Belongil Creek Bridge, on the way into town, was painted during Australia's marriage equality postal survey as a symbol of the shire’s ethos of equality and inclusion. Everyone is welcome in Byron.
Photo Credit: Amy Phillips, Byron Shire Council. The Rainbow Bridge At Belongil Creek, Byron Bay, painted during the marriage equality postal survey.
There is, of course, a downside to the town’s popularity: traffic is congested, parking metres are everywhere, and it can be hard to cheer up, slow down and chill out when you’re waiting 45 minutes to secure a table for dinner.
But hey, that’s Byron.
SEE AND DO
• Take a road trip and check out the satellite towns of Bangalow and Mullumbimby. Bangalow is a 20 minute drive through the lush subtropical hills. It’s much quieter and is all about the luxe, eco-conscious and sustainable shopping experience and quaint village atmosphere. And there’s great organic food too. Of course.
• Mullumbimby is a tiny hamlet 25 minutes drive north of Byron. In the '70s and '80s it was a centre for alternative culture, and today hippies walk around with bare feet while their kids dance nude to the bongo drums being played outside the local organic café. It’s the kind of place where you look like an asshole if you ask for a plastic bag at the supermarket. They won’t give you one and Santos Organics won't sell you a take away coffee if you don’t BYO cup.
• Chill at the beaches. There are heaps to choose from. From the bustle of Main Beach to dolphin spotting at Wategos or escaping the crowds at Cosy Corner and the more secluded Tallow’s or dog-friendly Belongil. The remote but beautiful White’s Beach and Tyagarah at Broken Head are both stunning and well worth the trip.
• Do the Cape Byron Lighthouse walk. Depending on the time of year you may spot whales and the coastal view is breathtaking. The walk takes you through rainforest and grassland, with steep steps. Or take the easy way out and drive up to the lighthouse, but it will cost you $8 to park.
• Treck to the Minyon Falls in the World Heritage Nightcap National Park and experience the beauty of the Byron Bay Hinterland. This is a tough 7.5km roundtrip. Or watch the sunrise on Mt Warning, a 5 hr return treck through the rainforest.
• Experience the area's thriving cultural scene at the monthly Bangalow markets and the weekly Friday night Byron Bay Artisan Markets. There are locally designed leather products, clothes, jewelry, furniture and soaps plus food and live music.
• Head to Main Beach in Byron at sunset and experience the drumming circle. You’ll see people drumming, dancing, trancing, busking and chiiling on the lawn.
• Take part in a festival – there are plenty to choose from: Byron Bay Writers Festival, Falls Festival, Splendour In The Grass, Bluesfest, Spirit Festival, the International Film Fest, Surf Festival, Mullum Music Festival…
The beautiful Watego's Beach in Byron Bay
EAT AND DRINK
It’s not hard to be healthy in Byron. You can buy local organic and biodynamic fruit, veggies and groceries at not-for profit Santos Organics in Byron and Mullumbimby or eat at one of the many organic, ethical cafes.
My favourite Melbourne cafe, Combi, serves raw organic smoothies, acai bowls and buckwheat pancakes in Byron. The café is bigger than their Melbourne one and is great place to chill any time of the day.
Folk In Byron and Woods in Bangalow serve organic, local, ethical and plant based brunches and lunches. Think turmeric lattes, quinoa salads, smashed avocado on toast and nourish bowls.
Bayleaf Café serves organic, ethical breakfasts and lunches. Fancy some split pea & herb falafels served with poached eggs, pickled zucchini, yoghurt sauce, baked harissa, sprouts & botanicals? Also on the menu are dukkah poached eggs, avocado on organic sourdough, coconut cold brew and iced chai.
If cocktails, fun and attentive service and modern Vietnamese food are more your thing, head to the new kid in town, Light Years. It was packed when we went so we were seated at at the bar, where Adam the bartender proceeded to spoil us.
Miss Margarita tacqueria near the beach is another great place to enjoy a cocktail or two. Happy hour is from 5 - 6pm, the classic margaritas are quaffable and the nacho’s aren’t bad either.
Balcony Bar & Oyster Co is a bustling spot above Jonson Street, with award-winning chef Sean Connelly at the helm. They specialise in oysters, seafood and cocktails and we enjoyed a seafood-focussed set menu Christmas lunch which was delicious.
Enjoy true farm to table dining at Three Blue Ducks restaurant at The Farm. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you need to book to get a table. On weekends they fire up the Argentinian grill and wood fired oven and let you chill on the grass for the afternoon, listening to live music.
Island Luxe Tribe in Byron and Island Luxe in Bangalow offer the “feel of a luxurious gypset lifestyle without pretension” and stock exclusive fashion, homewares and furniture sourced mainly from Europe. There are Golden Goose Deluxe Brand shoes from Italy, Belstaff leather products, to die for Dimissianos and Miller culatta oxidized combat boots, avant garde Italian label Avant Toi and cool Kuboraum frames alongside local artisan jewelry, Mad Et Len handmade French candles and aussie clothing label Bassike.
Island Luxe In Bangalow & Island Luxe Tribal In Byron Bay Stock Exclusive Fashion, Homewares & Furniture
Head to Rasu Leather Goods in Bangalow for leather handbags, shoes, belts and leather goods from local artisan Rachel Ayland.
Spell And The Gypsy Collective is a boho fashion label by local sisters Isabella and Elizabeth. Their feminine, gypsy and vintage inspired pieces are designed in Byron and ethically produced in factories overseas.
Ninbella Gallery and JEFA Fine Art in Bangalow are great for browsing contemporary aboriginal art and pieces by local and national artists.
There are some seriously indulgent spas and retreats near Byron, plus yoga and meditation classes, reiki practitioners, readers and healers in town.
At Clay Organic Beauty in Mullumbimby, beauty treatments begin with a relaxing organic tea ritual.
The Byron at Byron Resort And Spa offers an indulgent spa menu, including their signature 2 hour rainforrest couple’s retreat.
Multi-award winning Gaia Retreat and Spa in the Byron Hinterland is set on 25 stunning acres and offers a range of retreat packages and a pampering day spa menu.
We stayed at Pallis Hills, a large Queenslander in the Byron Hinterland, 15 minutes from town. We had the downstairs self-contained apartment, which is spacious, private and equipped with everything you need, including beach towels.
The tropical gardens are beautiful and the pool and gazebo are designed for serious relaxation. Our hosts, Greg and Lauren, stocked the apartment with cereals, coffee, bread, eggs, milk, yoghurt and a fruit bowl. They went out of their way to provide extra touches designed to make our Christmas memorable.
We flew from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, hired a car and drove down to Byron. The drive took us less than an hour and the roads are easy to navigate while the lush tropical vegetation makes driving a pleasure.
We were in Byron for Christmas and the weather was around 27 - 31*C with some heavy tropical downpours.